March 12, 2012

Molecular building blocks of primitive life in an artificial comet

The first molecules of life naturally occur in comets: that is what the French-German works achieved by the groups of Uwe Meierhenrich and Cornelia Meinert from the Institute of chemistry of Nice (Sophia Antipolis University of Nice/CNRS) and of Louis Le Sergeant d'Hendecourt from the Institute of Space Astrophysics (Paris-Sud University/CNRS) suggest.

After building up an artificial comet, the investigators did analyse its components with a worldwide unique technique. It appeared for the first time that the comets could contain molecules which would be the primitive genetic matter: “diamino-acids”. Between chemistry, biology and astrophysics, those works support the premise that the elementary building blocks of life did not appear on Earth but in Space. They just got published in the online issue of the ChemPlusChem magazine.

Those analysis are in line with the European large space mission “Rosetta”. The programme's objective is to land a probe on the Tchourioumov-Guerassimenko comet to study its nuclei's structure. To try to anticipate the Rosetta's results, the scientists imagined building up an artificial comet, also called “simulated interstellar/cometary ice”, and analysing its components.

The team of Louis Le Sergeant d'Hendecourt was responsible for building up the micro-comet at the Institute of Space Astrophysics (Paris-Sud University/CNRS). In similar conditions than in space (-200°C under vacuum), the investigators condensed water (H2O), ammonia (NH3) and methanol (CH3OH) molecules (interstellar existing components) at a solid piece of magnesium fluoride (MgF2) while irradiating the whole with UV radiations. After ten days, they obtained a few precious micrograms (10-6g) of artificial organic matter.

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Article references

Cornelia Meinert, Jean-Jacques Filippi, Pierre de Marcellus, Louis le Sergeant d'Hendecourt, and Uwe J. Meierhenrich (2012), N-(2-Aminoethyl)glycine and Amino Acids in Interstellar Ice Analogues, ChemPlusChem, online 29 février 2012.



Update: 03/12/2012